Panel discusses 'Islamophobia' in media

· October 25, 2007, 5:00 am

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The inspiration for the title of yesterday's panel on the media and Islam? A Public Enemy track.

"Don't Believe the Hype," hosted by Penn's Muslim Student Association as part of Islam Awareness Week, delved into common misrepresentations of Islam in Western media.

Panelists Aminah McCloud, a professor of Islamic world studies at DePaul University, and comedian Azhar Usman gave both a revealing and entertaining lecture on the reality of Muslim representation in the media and possible solutions to improve the situation.

McCloud focused on how the misuse of language has led to misunderstandings of Islam. "Jihad," for example, traditionally refers to personal struggle with temptation and desire but has come to be associated solely with holy war.

Usman added his perspective from inside the entertainment industry to the panel.

He compared media conglomeration to "seven dudes sitting in a room" with enormous power in deciding what Americans watch and read.

According to Usman, the media "has become simultaneously under-inclusive and over-inclusive," funneling a diverse demographic of 1.3 to 1.5 billion followers of Islam into a single image of violence and terrorism.

The focus on Islam and terrorism has paradoxically resulted in a fundamental absence of authentic Muslim representation in the media, which Usman labeled "a gross disparity of balance."

"There is an appetite for content that is balanced," he said, but it is difficult to effectively distribute that content. Recent trends such as the growth of YouTube and Indiewood offer hope for change, he added.

Artina Sheikh, College senior and vice president of MSA, called the event a success, saying the group was proud to have such large audience attendance at its events this week, reaching up to 100 people per event.

Sheikh's goal was "to create dialogue to better understand how Muslims can portray themselves in the media."

The audience's response was both positive and hopeful.

College sophomore Suhail Dar said he was always optimistic that the media's portrayal of Muslims would change, "but it's nice to hear someone from the media say so."

Bryn Mawr junior Sarah Natasha Ahmad said there has been "a lot of violence associated with the faith [in the media], but I don't think the faith is represented at all."

Temple student Monira Gamal-Eldin said, "There's hope for the future."

Even though Islam may be distorted by the media, "it won't always be portrayed this way," she added.

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